This article was originally published in the Teton Valley News on March 6th, 2014. It is reposted with permission.
Did you plant 53,000 trees last year? Neither did I. Luckily, the collective recycling efforts in Teton Valley had the same impact on our carbon footprint as planting all those trees would have. The aluminum and tin cans, scrap metal, paper, cardboard, and electronic waste that were recycled in 2013 reduced our community’s greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 2,081 tons of carbon dioxide. According to the US EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, that savings is equivalent to taking 434 cars off the road for one year, reducing gasoline consumption by 233,296 gallons, eliminating the electricity use of 286 homes for one year, or planting 53,359 seedlings and growing them for ten years.
Carbon equivalencies can help people visualize the impact of emissions reductions. However, they are based on national averages and may differ from actual energy consumption habits in Teton Valley. The emissions calculations, on the other hand, were customized for our community using the EPA’s online waste reduction model, WARM.
WARM determines metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent using the exact tons of waste recycled at the transfer station in 2013. Waste composition data is used to estimate how many tons of the same materials were sent to the landfill. WARM then calculates carbon emissions for our community based on materials recovered, materials landfilled, and the distances our waste travels to either the landfill or to a materials recovery facility.
General carbon calculators estimate about one ton of carbon dioxide emissions reduced per ton of material recycled. However, those estimates assume that most landfills capture and use the carbon dioxide and methane emissions that are released when waste decomposes in landfills. Because the Mud Lake Landfill does not capture landfill gas for energy use, the emissions reductions from recycling are even greater for our community.
Why is this important? In the short term, our community might actually benefit from the impacts of climate change. Tourists come here to ski because there isn’t as much snow elsewhere. Our snowpack will help irrigate farms through the summer while the rest of Idaho suffers from a severe drought. But what will happen when WE face water shortages and low snow years? The tourists will stop coming, the farmers will lose crops, and our economy will suffer.
People in Teton Valley and around the world must take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and recycling is one of the easiest ways to do that. Teton Valley Community Recycling is hosting an environmental film series this winter to spark conversations about important issues like climate change and serve as a catalyst for action. Our third and final film, Chasing Ice, captures the disappearance of the world’s glaciers through breathtaking cinematography and a “chilling” storyline (pun intended).
Be a part of the conversation: Come to the free screening of Chasing Ice on Friday, March 14 at 6:30 pm at the Senior Center in Driggs. It’s a lot easier than planting 53,000 trees.
Tanya Anderson is the executive director of Teton Valley Community Recycling. For more information, visit tetonrecycling.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.